FLEMINGTON, NJ - Reading-Fleming Intermediate School held its annual veterans assembly yesterday, an event designed to celebrate the service of veterans and to learn from their vast array of life experiences.

Jesse Lockett was the guest of honor this year. He’s no stranger to the school district, because he’s the Vice Principal at Copper Hill School.

Lockett has also served as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, where he was deployed to Iraq from May 2005 to April 2006. He was stationed at Camp Buca in Southern Iraq, where he served on a security forces team. His job included providing ground transport of detainees from

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what the military calls TIF - Theater Internment Facility - but what civilians would call a prison. He transported detainees from the camp to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad.

Lockett takes great pride in his desire and ability to serve. He shared that the most

rewarding part of his job in Iraq was when he was assigned to serve at the visitor’s center of the prisons. As an American, he said he was perceived as the enemy occupying the Iraqi country, and the people coming to see their loved ones were often seen as potential enemies to the mission.

Lockett said he chose to see them not as enemies, but as humans. In the midst of a combat zone, which is ugly, he treated it as an opportunity to embrace that we are all human.

We are all capable of love, Lockett reasons. No matter what country you call your home, everyone has family that they love and cherish.

Respect is something we all deserve, Lockett said, but he admitted that sometimes people are prejudiced.

He thought he knew Iraq and that the Iraqis thought they knew America. But Lockett learned quickly that Iraq is made up of many different backgrounds and beliefs, just as America is made up of more than Texas, California and New York. To see the bigger picture, we must open our minds, Lockett told students. It isn’t just about us and our own personal experience.

Lockett told the RFIS fifth and sixth grade students that service is not just about being in the military. Service starts in our homes, school, community and houses of worship. He challenged students to consider a way they might be able to serve, and they responded with suggestions such as being respectful, looking people in the eye when they speak, holding doors for others and working together.

Lockett said the military taught him to face challenges and keep serving even when serving is hard. He encouraged students to do the same.

Lockett said school was not always a great experience for him as a kid. He talked about

how he went to school to talk and hang out with friends, and how that ended up shaping his time at a base in Missouri, where in his free time he took up mentoring middle school students from difficult life situations and helped them to see themselves in a new light.

He also found ways to volunteer within the town, even dressing up as Santa Claus to help bring holiday cheer to elementary school students.

When asked by an RFIS student what his greatest goal was, Lockett said it was simply to be a teacher. That means serving, he said, with the goal to help students grow socially and emotionally, leading to academic growth.

The school’s annual assembly is run each year by RFIS Music Teacher Susie Guckin-Sullivan, whose husband is a Gulf War Marine Corps veteran.